Two years ago, a year ago, even a month ago, it seemed unfathomable that Mookie Betts would be wearing any uniform other than Boston’s. After all, he had already joined franchise legends like Ted Williams in the record books before he was even 27 years old. It seemed ludicrous that one of the best players in all of baseball, a generational talent, a homegrown hero who’d already won a World Series, American League MVP, a batting title, three Silver Sluggers in four years, and four consecutive Gold Gloves, would not be someone the Red Sox wanted to keep.
He’s the kind of player you do anything – everything – to keep.
Even the last few days, when it seemed inevitable, it still seemed unfathomable. But this is a brave, new world in Boston, one in which Chaim Bloom was hired to slash the payroll, and despite ownership’s platitudes, competitiveness does not seem to matter as much as living and breathing for the dollar like Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts came calling.
Last night, news broke that the Red Sox will trade Mookie Betts, David Price, and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Alex Verdugo and pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol.
If it seems like the Red Sox got fleeced in this deal, it’s because they did. But don’t cry for them; they let it happen to themselves, and I’d assume, quite happily. They got what they wanted, and so did the Dodgers who get to keep their elite prospects, Dustin May and Gavin Lux, while adding a young superstar and veteran Cy Young pitcher to their club, and money to their pockets. In the end, acquiring a hefty return for a generational, homegrown player was not nearly as important to the Red Sox as unloading money.
Plenty of people are trying to blame this on Mookie. That’s wrong, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, Mookie Betts was always going to test free agency. He made that clear a long time ago, and he held firm for well over a year. Power to him. The Red Sox’ “efforts” to sign him to an extension were insultingly low. In 2018, when he was the reigning AL MVP and batting champion, with his third straight Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger under his belt, there were talks of him turning down a 7-year, $210 million extension. Then, this year, the Sox offered him a 10-year, $300 million deal, which he countered with 12 years, $420 million. That’s too lengthy of a contract for a team currently trying to figure out how to extricate themselves from Dustin Pedroia’s contract extension. Not wanting to commit to Mookie when he’s 39 years old is understandable, but the average annual value of $35M/year is something they should have agreed to, without a doubt.
Mookie wanted to be paid what he felt he deserved based on a stunningly-impressive career in Boston and what the current market dictates for a player of his caliber, of which there are very few. The way this superstar long-term deal trend works, he’ll likely only go to free agency once, and aside from Mike Trout, he is the best player in all of baseball. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado each got $300 million or more in free agency, and Betts is better than both of them combined. Mike Trout got an extension upwards of $400 million, and he probably should have commanded even more than he got. So it stands to reason that Mookie would be somewhere in the high end of that elite group, and he just wanted to be valued as such by his team. Forget the obvious fact that no one needs this much money, because that is a moot point: if you’re mad at Mookie for wanting to be paid what he deserves for what he’s done for this team, but you’re not mad at ownership, a group valued upwards of $6 billion, for not wanting to pay him to stick around because they want to cry “poor” when they’re the farthest thing from it, you’re only reinforcing this new, horribly twisted power dynamic that is taking over MLB. Mookie Betts deserved more than they offered him, and it would have been an insult to his own talent and potential to accept their deal.
The Red Sox acting like they don’t have two pennies to rub together is an insult to teams with payrolls a quarter of their own, and an insult to the intelligence and devotion of baseball fans. Forbes estimates the Red Sox’ franchise value at $3.2 billion, and their ownership group at more than twice that. Of all the major sports conglomerates and ownerships, only Kroenke Sports ($8.4B) and Jerry Jones ($6.9B) are worth more than Fenway Sports Group. No one thinks the Red Sox had to trade Mookie, and knowing how much they’re worth and how little they got in return for this trade, there is no way to spin the fact that they simply chose to do this.
When you think about it, this is nothing new; the Red Sox have been doing this for years now, and it just gets worse every time. Ownership always thinks the grass is always greener in the other team’s ballpark, which is why they lowball players like Jon Lester and watch them walk away, and then shell out big bucks on terrible free-agent contracts like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Pablo Sandoval, to name a few of their disasters in the last decade. We can only pray that Mookie suddenly looks more enticing to them as a free agent next winter than he did in their own uniform for his entire career thus far. Unlike the aforementioned free-agents, he’s actually worth it.
Unfortunately for Sox fans, Chaim Bloom has done exactly what he was hired to do: slash payroll, reset the luxury tax, and preserve the future. But a future without Mookie Betts is pretty bleak, and what ownership does not seem to realize is that cutting costs will come at a high cost of a different kind. Sox fans are heartbroken, disenchanted, and disillusioned. In one offseason, their beloved franchise has raised ticket prices while sending away players that the team needed and the fans loved. They can try to feed us their line about a depleted farm system and resetting to avoid further penalties, but Sox fans are far too smart to buy that coming from a group of billionaires who didn’t even get one elite prospect in return for Betts. Despite the changing times, and football taking over for baseball as American’s Game, here in Boston, baseball was still reigning supreme. And yet in the last year, the Red Sox have shown their “Best Fans In Baseball” that they do not care about them at all. It’s very Fever Pitch come to life: “You love the Sox, but have they ever loved you back?” This is not a movie, though, and a 2004-style happy ending to this story seems unlikely.
Thank you for everything, Mookie, a million times over. I wish you nothing but success in your career, no matter where you go. I hope you come back to us, but I don’t blame you if you don’t. Just please don’t go to the Yankees or Astros.
And my congratulations to the Red Sox on winning your offseason goal. You’re losing everything else. I hope it was worth it.
Photo: Billie Weiss/Getty Images